The katana, or samurai sword, requires perfect condition of all its parts to maintain its structural integrity and keen cutting edge for use as a weapon. Although properly-maintained katana blades can last for decades or centuries, other portions of the sword require replacement. If you have a katana and associated fittings, but need a new hilt, you can make the hilt yourself rather than having to buy one. This allows you to shape the hilt to your particular blade.
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Things you need
- Katana blade with full-length nakago (tang)
- 2 seppa (spacers)
- Fuchi (hilt collar)
- Kashira (pommel cap)
- Habaki (blade collar)
- Tsuba (handguard)
- Mekugi (bamboo retaining pegs)
- 2 inch-by-4-inch lumber, 18 inches
- Wood clamps
- Wood chisel
- Drill, 1/4-inch bit
- Drill, 3/16-inch bit
- Wood glue or rice glue
- 320-grit sandpaper
- Same (sharkskin), 14-inch width
- Wood epoxy
- Ito (hilt wrapping)
Split the 2-by-4 lumber down its long axis on the narrow plane two-thirds of the width across. Align the two pieces so that the grain of the cross-section forms a V-like shape. This ensures that warping of the whole hilt will cancel out on the two sides. You should have one piece twice as thick as the other. Set the thinner piece aside to work with later.
Fit the habaki, seppa, tsuba and other seppa onto the blade. Place the end of the 2-by-4 flush against the second seppa, and trace the outline of the ura---inner, or right---side of the nakago (tang, the portion of the blade covered by the hilt) onto the wood. Make your lines dark.
Draw another set of guidelines representing the full, exact depth of the nakago onto the wood. Chisel the space out at a shallow angle. Remove small bits of wood at a time. It's better to have too little space than too much; a loose katana hilt can cause a lethal accident or irreparable damage to the blade.
Cut the excess length from the end of the hilt. According to Ausblade.com, the end of the hilt should extend no more than 1 1/2 inches past the nakago.
Clamp the two sides of the hilt together and slide the blade in. Check its fit---you should be able to slide the blade out easily, but it shouldn't move inside the hilt.
Remove the omote---outer, or facing left---side and place the ura side flat with the blade fitted into it. Trace the inner circumference of the mekugi-ana---the hole in the nakago---and drill through it with the 3/16-inch drill bit. Remove sawdust.
Flip the assembly over. Drill through the hole with the 1/8-inch drill bit, and you should now have a hole going all the way through the hilt, lined up with the mekugi-ana. It should be slightly wider on the ura side---this enables the mekugi to stay in place.
Remove the blade. Glue the ura and omote sections of the hilt together. Ensure they align perfectly---once you set the glue, the pieces cannot move and should not be disassembled. Wait for the glue to set and dry.
Trace the outlines of the fuchi (hilt collar) and kashira (pommel cap). Use the 220-grit sandpaper to sand the shape of the hilt to match them---it should resemble an oval. Chisel out indentations for the fuchi and kashira as needed. Measure the distance from the end of the hilt to the mekugi-ana.
Soak the same in a bowl for seven minutes, enough to make it pliable enough to shape. Wrap it around the katana hilt, starting from the edge surface. Ensure that no air bubbles or spaces remain between the same and hilt, and note any excess you need to cut off. After cutting, lightly coat the hilt in wood epoxy and rewrap the same. Tie it in place with the Ito by wrapping the Ito all the way around the same.
Measure along the same to the location of the mekugi-ana and make a hole even with it. Drilling the mekugi-ana in consecutive steps removes guesswork and the need to potentially drill through the sword blade, which would damage and devalue the sword. Put the fuchi and kashira on the hilt.
Place the midpoint of the Ito in the middle of the underside of your hilt, flush with the fuchi. Begin wrapping both sides downward around the hilt in a crisscrossing fashion, so a line of diamond-shaped openings show between the wrappings. Ensure the mekugi is uncovered.
Assemble the full sword: place the habaki, seppa, tsuba, and second seppa on the blade, then slide the hilt into place and insert the mekugi into the ura side of the hilt. Hammer it all the way into place so none of it protrudes. Your katana now has a new hilt.
Tips and warnings
- Always inspect the mekugi before using a katana. Replace it if necessary.
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